Digital Journalism: Ethics and ethos

Twitter through up an interesting link to NYU’s  Journalism Handbook for Students: Ethics, Law and Good Practice. I was particually taken with their Ethics pledge which all students are expected to sign or “The final grade for a student registered in a journalism course will not be submitted to the Registrar”.

It begins with:

As a New York University journalism student, you are part of a community of scholars at a university recognized for its research. A scholar’s mission is to push forward the boundaries of knowledge; a journalist’s mission is to serve the public by seeking out and reporting the facts as accurately as possible. Good journalists and scholars share a commitment to the same principle: integrity in their work.

By signing this ethics pledge, you agree to maintain the highest standards of honesty and foster ethical behavior at all times. Anyone who fails to uphold these ethical standards has committed a serious violation of this agreement. Penalties can range from an F on an assignment to a failing grade in a course to expulsion, depending on the decision of the instructor in consultation with the Institute’s Ethics Committee.

Serious stuff.  The idea that an ethics comittee within an institution would consider, and rule upon,  proffessional ethics outside of the purley academic is challenging but, I think, right. Behaviour like Plagiarism is cited as the kind of behaviour that breaks the pledge and could get you hauled up.

Now we take plagiarism serioulsy but it’s an academic issue, there are serious punishments, but academic none the less. The ethics comittee oversees research activity. We also hammer home the Society of Editors code of conduct etc.  But I’d love it to be more directly asssociated with the professional ethics of journalism – more proffession based.

Defining a digital journalist.

The pledge chimed with me as I’m updating my Digital newsroom class for this year. The class handbook includes a page that outlines the ‘module ethic':

This module is not about defining a digital newsroom.

This module looks at the way digital and online practice affects newsrooms
and how that, in turn, changes and develops individual journalism practice.

We will explore this by :

  • Looking at the context in which digital and online practice has
    developed and how that has changed newsroom practice
  • Looking at the tools used and evaluating how they can be used to
    create content.

You will use one to inform the other in a way that suits your practice.
As you do this module there are two things to keep in mind.

  • We are platform agnostics: You can be a newspaper, radio,
    magazine, TV or online journalist and still be digital
  • We are consumers and providers: Think about what it takes to
    produce the content you use everyday.

But most of all, remember: You are a digital journalist!

Whatever their motivation for getting in to journalism, whichever media they see themselves working in, understanding how digital tools and practice can fit in to their practice is what being a digital journalist is all about. That last bit is a given whether they like it or not.

I can’t get students to sign-up to it and if they ignore it there is no ‘ethos panel’ but at least we start from a common ground.

Image credit: WCN247 on flickr

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